Pilgrimage.

In the days following my English Channel swim I was propelled by an unusual amount of energy and a disconnection with what I had actually achieved. Something was missing.  My swim had officially ended when I cleared the water and stood on French sand, yet restlessness stirred within. My desire for understanding this particularly personal and meaningful adventure still needed to be fulfilled. I had an overwhelming need to appropriately finish this chapter of what had been a significant achievement for myself. Beginning with my post-swim trip to the White Horse Pub where I scribbled my swim details alongside the many Channel swimmers who came before me, and a victory lap of Dover the day after my swim, I instinctively tasked myself with scribing the last few paragraphs of my English Channel adventure.

I met with the swimmers still training for their Channel crossings that gather each weekend at Dover Harbor. Sitting against the seawall as she does most weekends, was Freda Streeter – famous for coaching her daughter, Alison, for her historic 34 hour THREE-WAY crossing of the English Channel in 1990. Known worldwide for her amazing swim as well as her commitment to training Channel aspirants, it was such a delight to finally meet her. However, despite her impressive achievement, thanks to my post-swim endorphins, Freda was – unfortunately - not immune to the comedic skit of “Samphire HOE.” I was very silly. Thankfully she laughed.

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I received multiple pieces of very important memorabilia. My boat pilot Andy King presented me with a hand-written map of the English Channel detailing via GPS my journey across the expanse. My official Channel Swimming Association observer, Steve Franks, was extremely kind to document my swim with photos and his own personal written account. Reading his narrative of my swim for the first time, I broke down in tears. The flood of tears washing over me was pure utter disbelief. Steve was also the official observer for my relay team crossing in 2011, and he recalled - with some amusement - my ambitious and ill–prepared failed attempt to swim the channel solo, just a few days after my relay. It was particularly serendipitous then that he observed my successful solo swim. I was so proud to show him my hard work and transformation into a swimmer. Inviting he and his wife to join my friends for dinner that evening seemed the least I could do as appreciation for his thoughtfulness and generosity. Again, another paragraph was completed. 

Next I took two trips back to France. One stormy afternoon, the ride over on the P&O Ferry still only took 1/12 of the time it took me to swim the Channel. All the while I stood outside and marveled at the expanse which I had swum just 3 days prior. For the second trip, I invited my boat pilot Andy. I was thrilled for the opportunity to have him join me in locating the exact spot where I finished my swim.  Andy said he had never had a swimmer invite him to do this, yet for me it was particularly meaningful to have him navigate with us one last time. Accompanied by Melissa and our new friend Roger who had swum the Channel in 2012 and who was also eager to locate his finishing spot, we left England in the little red Peugeot aboard a P&O ferry. A few close calls driving the wrong way down a couple of country roads, and a more than a few angry looks from the locals, we happened upon Roger's landing spot at Le Cap Blanc-Nez. It was clear his visit was very emotional. I couldn't wait to experience the same.

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Next it was my turn. Meandering along a few more country roads for about 30 minutes, we finally located Cap Gris Nez! Obsessed with locating the exact spot, I persuaded my passengers in accompanying me on a little hike. After a longer-than-expected, hungry, and dehydrated trek on foot, up and over a hill and down a steep embankment, we were rewarded with a beautiful beach. This is where I finished my swim!!! Tears welled up in my eyes in disbelief. And I knew I needed to get back in the water. 

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Following traditional swim pilgrimage protocol, I swam in the surf with Melissa and a French canine, I kissed French sand, and, finally, posed for an obligatory “pedicure shot.” Not one detail was missed. And last, but not least, following the hike from the beach back to Cape Gris Nez, Andy, Roger, Melissa and I joined my friends Mike and Steph for a celebratory lunch at the nearby restaurant, La Sirène. The last paragraph was written. Or so I thought.

 

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